Surprisingly well-rounded Rockets win second playoff series in 18 years

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James Harden hit a tightly contested step-back 3-pointer in the final few minutes, an apparent dagger and defining moment in the 2015 playoffs for the MVP candidate.

But the Rockets guard allowed himself only a quick clap in celebration.

A minute and a half later, he helped defend Tyson Chandler in the post, peeled off, swiped a pass, raced up court and dished to Terrence Jones for a dunk while knocking Monta Ellis into the stanchion – and the Mavericks out of the playoffs.

Showing its prowess on both ends of the floor, Houston won its second playoff series in 18 years with a 103-94 Game 5 win over Dallas on Tuesday. The Rockets will face the Clippers or Spurs in the second round.

“This is just the beginning,” said Harden, who led Houston with 28 points and eight assists.

I just might be.

Dwight Howard (18 points, 19 rebounds, four blocks and four steals) looks healthy and lively, and he raises the Rockets’ ceiling considerably. Harden dragged them to the No. 2 seed, but he could have carried them only so far in the postseason. A powerful inside force opens possibilities on both sides of the court.

Also helping Houston: Sound defense.

The Rockets were better defensively than offensively throughout the regular season, but they’d essentially played the first four games of this series trying to outscore the Mavericks. That style sure changed Tuesday.

A fast pace disguises just how poor the offensive output was in Game 5. The points per 100 possessions per NBA.com –  95.5 for Houston, 83.9 for Dallas – would have sandwiched the 76ers (93.0) for the NBA’s worst mark during the regular season. And Philadelphia held last place by a wide margin.

“If you want to win a championship, you’ve got to like it when it gets dirty and nasty, because that’s the way it gets a lot of times,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “A lot of times, it just becomes a fistfight game where no one can make shots.”

In this fistfight, Houston got key help from Josh Smith (20 points and eight rebounds) and Jones (15 points and five rebounds). With so many preseason predictions focusing on what the Rockets lacked – defense from Harden, depth after Daryl Morey dismantled so much a good team in search of a third star – they had plenty Tuesday.

The Mavericks’ lack of depth, on the other hand, proved decisive.

Their top trade acquisition, Rajon Rondo, was excommunicated. Their top free agent signing, Chandler Parsons, is seriously injured (and so was his backup, Richard Jefferson). And their top scorer, Ellis (25 points), was banged up before finally leaving the game after his collision with Harden.

Dirk Nowitzki needs more help than he got, though his teammates offered as much as they could. Despite a horrendous shooting start from Nowitzki and the Rockets repeatedly putting him in pick-and-rolls he couldn’t defend throughout the series, Dallas competed until the closing moments of the fourth quarter.

“In the end, they had a little more left in the tank, and It was a bit a battle of attrition,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “But they’re very worthy of advancing. They’re legit. They’ve got a great chance at the whole thing.”

Check out Philadelphia’s new Liberty Bell-inspired city jerseys

Photo courtesy Philadelphia 76ers
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There is nothing more iconic in Philadelphia than the Liberty Bell.

(Well, maybe the Philly Cheesesteak, but that’s a lot messier to turn into a jersey.)

Tuesday night, the 76ers unveiled their new city jerseys at the “76ers Crossover: Art Exhibition, presented by Reebok.” It’s a sharp new look.

“It’s important to our organization to pay tribute to Philadelphia’s rich history, culture and landmarks as frequently and authentically as we can,” Philadelphia 76ers President Chris Heck said. “In partnership with StubHub, we designed the City Edition jersey to celebrate the Liberty Bell, a Philadelphia icon that transcends time and brings to life a powerful symbol that unites us all. We look forward to enjoying many special moments with our fans wearing these uniforms throughout the remainder of the season.”

Here is how the press release describes the City Edition jerseys (which fans can buy beginning Nov. 27 online at www.SixersShop.com and at in-arena stores):

The parchment color uniform features blue “Philadelphia” cursive script and predominantly displays the crack in the Liberty Bell down the side of the uniform. On the front hem, the jersey features the embroidered phrase “Pass and Stow,” inscribed on the front of the Liberty Bell. The two names are derived from Philadelphia foundry workers, John Pass and John Stow, who recast the original bell in 1753.

Philadelphia will wear these for five games this season, the first on Nov. 30 against Indiana.

LeBron James finishes Rajon Rondo alley-oop to close out half (VIDEO)

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One of the reasons LeBron James leads the league in assists — other than the fact he can do anything on the basketball court he wants — is that he was the Lakers’ only quality playmaker to start the season. He had to set guys up.

Until Rajon Rondo returned recently from injury.

Now Rondo is setting up everyone — including LeBron for this monster alley-oop just before the half Tuesday night.

LeBron can still finish with the best of them.

Just don’t ask him about doing the dunk contest.

 

New Orleans spoils Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut in 115-104 Pelicans win

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jrue Holiday had 22 points and 10 assists, Brandon Ingram added 21 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans spoiled Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut with a 115-104 victory over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Anthony finished with 10 points while Portland leading scorer and four-time All-Star Damian Lillard missed his first game of the season with back spasms.

Starting at forward and playing across the street from where he led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship over Kansas, Anthony scored the Blazers’ first points of the game on a 3-pointer from 26 feet out. However, he wound up missing 10 of 14 shots in what was the first game of his 17th NBA season.

Ingram looked spry in his return from right knee soreness that sidelined him four games, particularly on an authoritative, driving, one-handed dunk that got the crowd roaring in the opening quarter.

J.J. Redick hit 4 of 9 3-pointers and scored 14 points for New Orleans, which has won two straight and three of four. Kenrich Williams, who got the start at forward, filled the stat sheet with hustle plays, grabbing 14 rebounds to go with three steals and a blocked shot. He also scored eight points.

Holiday highlighted his night with a spinning dribble around Nassir Little for a driving dunk. In the second half, he scored on an unusual play in which he remained under his own basket, re-tying his shoes while his team advanced 4-on-5 into the offensive end. Holiday then came sprinting down court, took a handoff from Nicolo Melli near the 3-point line and exploded toward the rim for a layup.

C.J. McCollum led Portland with 22 points, while Hassan Whiteside added 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Anthony wasted no time getting his first shot off. His miss from 20 feet came within the opening 30 seconds and was Portland’s first shot of the game. Anthony also took Portland’s second shot, hitting his first of two made 3s.

But when Anthony tried to rise for a two-handed dunk in the first half, he was met with resistance by a member of the NBA’s rookie class when eighth overall draft pick Jaxson Hayes rejected the attempt.

Hayes closed out the half with his third block, swatting away a driving floater by Anfernee Simons to keep Portland’s lead at 54-53.

New Orleans seized momentum in the third quarter, going up by 13 on a sequence that began when Melli hit a 3 and then got the ball right back in a largely vacated Portland back court after Nickeil Alexander-Walker dove to swipe the ball away from McCollum. Melli went straight in for a dunk that made it 83-70.

Portland responded with three quick 3s — two by Kent Bazemore — during a 9-2 run that trimmed New Orleans’ lead to six before Alexander-Walker, who had hit 11 3s in his previous two games, ended the period by banking in a straightaway 3 to make it 88-79.

Watch Carmelo Anthony’s first bucket as a Trail Blazer

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That Carmelo Anthony started the first game he played for Portland speaks to why they signed him in the first place — this team is so shorthanded along the front line that the guy they just signed got thrown into the fire.

Anthony responded with a solid level of play. His first bucket was a wing three where both defenders went to CJ McCollum and left ‘Melo wide open.

Anthony played 12 minutes in the first half and had 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, and three fouls. The team was looking to keep him at around 20 minutes for his first game back.

Portland led New Orleans 54-53 at the half.